Hello my friends! Today, we begin a new study in the always precious and valuable word of God. Our subject is the book of Ruth, which is by a general consent an extremely well-written love story. Yet you can see that our title for this opening article is “the scroll of kindness”. Why such a title? And why is there such a book in the Bible, God’s written word?
First of all, let us think more generally about the Holy Scriptures (the Holy Writings). When we come to the Bible, we must come to it in conformity with what it presents itself to be. If we fail to do this, we will not profit from it. But what does the Bible tell us about itself? Here are five basic perspectives:
- It is the word or message of the living God, which means it is sufficient and authoritative for what we believe and how we are to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- It is true (John 17:17; cf. Titus 1:2)
- It is a Christ-focused message (Luke 24:27, 44-47); its ideas and the way of life it presents are structured according to Christ
- It is spiritually profitable (Psalm 19:7-11)
- It must be listened to with faith in God (Hebrews 4:2)
Therefore, we must look at Ruth (meaning the book in the Bible) from the vantage point of all these perspectives. Here is an example from the first perspective. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- Teaching – what does Ruth contribute to knowing about God and his ways and the good news of Jesus Christ?
- Rebuking – what areas of our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions does Ruth show us that need godly change?
- Correcting – how can Ruth promote restoration and healing in our lives?
- Training in righteousness – how does Ruth prepare us to serve Christ and others better?
With these ideas in mind, let us continue with a brief overview of Ruth. First, let’s think of a few general facts.
The author and date of writing of Ruth are unknown. Ideas vary widely, even among evangelical Christians. It is not a subject worth troubling one’s mind about too much, as long as you accept it as part of God’s word.
Ruth is an historical short story. It is named after one of the three main characters of the book. Ruth (the person) is mentioned only once in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 1:5). The plot moves along by the actions and interactions of the three main characters. In chapters two through four, each in turn takes the initiative: Ruth, Naomi and finally Boaz. If you study the plot carefully, you will find that it seems to be a story about Naomi. (Due to space constraints, I will not demonstrate this now. Read Ruth for yourself this week and you will see this!) So then, if it is a story about Naomi, why is it called Ruth? To find the answer is to discover the purpose of the book.
The book of Ruth has always been accepted by God’s people as canonical—part of God’s word. But there are two divergent opinions about its place in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had three major divisions in ancient times: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44 for Jesus’ use of this general division). Our English Bibles are arranged differently: Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. However, from the time of the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Septuagint, Ruth was placed after Judges, and so we usually think of it as one of the books of History. Regretfully, this might distort the view of some about the book, assuming that it is a mere appendix to the larger book of Judges.
The older arrangement of the Hebrew people placed Ruth among the Writings, and within the Writings, it was considered one of the five festival scrolls. (Remember that the word was originally written on scrolls, not in book form.) Over time in Jewish worship, one of the five festival scrolls was read at each of the five major festivals. Ruth was usually read during the Feast of Weeks. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view each of these festival scrolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) from the standpoint of “promise and fulfillment” in regard to the story of God’s glory and to see each as a necessary contribution to our worship of God.
I encourage you to read Ruth on your own. Try reading it four times this week, making your own notes as you read. If you have a question, please contact me, and I’ll seek to answer it at some point in the blog or answer you directly.
Grace and peace, David